History recounts that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were
playing billiards as French revolutionaries stormed in to arrest them.
Some historians trace the sport as far back as ancient Egypt
and the days of Cleopatra.
While the game's origin might be uncertain, one thing is
for sure - its popularity has experienced many peaks and valleys.
As Tulsa Billiard Palace owner Jim McDermott explained,
the top story in a New York City newspaper at the turn of
the last century likely would report who had won the weekend's
billiard tournaments. Page two might then reveal the president's
latest stand on foreign policy.
`Pool halls flourished in the old days,` McDermott said.
`But they weren't clean. It wasn't a good atmosphere for ladies.`
The shabby reputation of pool halls and the association
of hustlers to such establishments nearly led to their demise.
By 1975, for example, only one pool hall existed on Manhattan
Island in New York City, where the game had once been so
popular, said Tulsa pool hall owner John Lupardus.
In the mid-1980s, however, billiards made a resurgence.
The establishments that were once considered nothing more
than smoke-filled rooms full of unshaven gamblers were changing
to more upscale venues where ladies can drink cappuccino
and gentlemen discuss stock market trends.
Lupardus believes the early 1960s movie, `The Hustler,`
spurred a generation of pool players, some of whom became
successful businessmen who began opening pool halls. Partly
due to a love of the game and partly by tapping into a growing
market, such entrepreneurial baby boomers are finding the
game to be a profitable business endeavor.
While the smoke-filled club - complete with blaring music
and bent pool sticks - can still be found in most every
city in America, twice as many new establishments catering
to the more serious pool players and families are popping up everywhere.
`Last year in California alone, 51 new pool halls opened,`
McDermott said. `Big, upscale pool halls.`
The game of green velvet, six pockets and numbered balls
seems to have taken the place of the white and red pins
and wooden alleys. Many television commercials that once
featured blue collar, burly men downing beers and hurling
a bowling ball now show fashionably dressed men and women
standing around a pool table, grasping bottles of specialty beer.
`Pool is used to sell a lot of merchandise, now,` McDermott said.
Separate men's and women's professional billiard's tours
provide the elite players with opportunities to earn a respectable
living at the sport.
The McDermott Tour is geared toward the weekend specialist.
Lupardus said more than 150 McDermott pool tournaments were
held throughout the United States last year. He expects
more than 200 tournaments will have been held by year's end.
Players pay around $65 to enter a McDermott tournament,
with the hosting pool hall contributing a sizable amount
of cash to bring the first place prize up to $5,000 or more.
Whether the game is eight ball or snooker, the pool hall
seems to be a popular place to hang out. And Tulsans have
plenty of places from which to choose, whether it be a hall
that opened years ago or a recently constructed site.
Regardless, it's your rack.
Sharky's and Magoo's Examples Of the Game's Fresh Direction
A smooth-walking, soft-talking, cigar-puffing pool player
circles a green-velvet covered table as he connects one
end of his custom-made cue stick to the other end.
He orders a shot of whiskey and eyes for his partner to
lock the entry door as he flashes a roll of c-notes and
runs a thumb under his suspender.
`It's your break,` the man quietly states across the table.
If that scene seems more like something from an old Paul
Newman movie than a night at a local pool hall, you're probably right.
In today's billiards clubs, chances are good that the player
walking around a table goes by Barbara, and the person is
just as likely to be drinking coffee or bottled water as
they are alcohol.
It's no accident that more women frequent pool halls these
days, and it's also by design that such places discourage
the hustler type of players.
When owners Mike Smith and Bret Howard opened Sharky's Pool
and Game Hall, 3415 S. Peoria Ave., in July, they installed
six smoke ventilators to filter and clean the air.
That and the combination of high ceilings, overhead fans
and an art deco motif help to ensure Sharky's maintains
a contemporary billiard center image - an image strongly
desired by Smith and Howard.
`One-third of pool players today are women,` Smith said.
With the opening of Sharky's, Smith accomplished a goal
he set during his childhood, when he would spend a great
deal of time in downtown Tulsa pool halls.
Smith and Howard, who both have real estate backgrounds,
are pleased with the Brookside location.
`We haven't had to have bouncers or anything like that,`
Howard noted. `We get the normal Brookside crowd and that's what we want.`
The two are serious about their establishment's image. Smith
said in the near future they hope to host father-son pool
tournaments. They would like to do the same with mother-daughter tandems.
Besides 12 regulation-size pool tables, Sharky's offers
table tennis, shuffleboard and pinball. Howard said they
plan to add a grill.
Smith also purchased a Brunswick, centennial snooker table
from Clem's, an old Brookside billiards house. He noticed
an original Clem's advertisement sign when he bought the
large table and the two have found a home inside Sharky's.
`I'd like to recapture the nostalgia of the old pool halls,`
Smith said. `Well, some of it anyway.`
Nostalgia will not be the only theme in the soon-to-be opened
Magoo's, 5002 S. Memorial Drive. The 13,000 square-foot
billiards house will have its share of history, though
Principal owner of Magoo's, Jim McDermott, recently purchased
a table built around 1870 entitled `The Monarch.` The priceless
antique includes cast iron, lion's heads legs, mosaic wood
inlay and ivory diamond markers atop each side.
The Monarch will be just one of 32 tables that includes
an 1890 Phister antique, a snooker table and 29 regulation tables.
McDermott, who also owns Tulsa Billiard Palace, believes
his newest location, set amidst dark purple and blue colors,
will not encroach on his established business but rather
will foster a pool of new players.
`Tulsa is pool poor,` McDermott said. `Wichita is three-fourths
the size of Tulsa and has twice as many pool tables in town.`
McDermott believes Magoo's will satisfy the serious pool
player but hopes it also will attract novices.
Headed by pool expert Mike Betz, a staff of male and female
house professionals will be on hand to assist anyone desiring
McDermott said Magoo's will feature restaurant quality food
and in-house cue repairs.
As is the current trend across the nation, Magoo's wants
the lady players to feel at home. In fact, they'll play
for free from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. And, professional pool
instructions are also complimentary for women, McDermott said.
McDermott plans to host women's tournaments on a regular basis.
Magoo's is scheduled to open in mid-November.